RLANDO, Fla. — “I know you’re all here to see Matt Kuchar,” Bubba Watson remarked as he went up to the opening tee of pro-am day at the PNC Championship.
This day was about Tiger Woods playing in public for the first time since he nearly died in a single-car crash in February, in a field of 20 major title winners, Hall of Famers, and some of the all-time greats. The sight of his wrecked vehicle was terrifying, but there he was, playing in front of the cameras with his 12-year-old son Charlie and his devoted bagman Joe LaCava.
When the laughter subsided, Tiger was ready with his retort: “Are you going to strike a cut…or a cut?” Woods had enquired.
Bubba responded, “I’ll tell you in a second,” as he did one of his trademark left-to-right benders.
Tiger promptly put tee in ground and began the newest chapter in a career that has seen more comebacks than a professional boxer, with the sun shining brightly and barely a cloud in the sky above the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.
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“I think he’s got alien DNA,” remarked Notah Begay III, a member of the Golf Channel/NBC broadcast crew and a Stanford teammate of Tiger’s. “His capacity to heal not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally, is unrivaled.” “I don’t believe something like this has ever happened in athletics.”
Tiger Woods was back on the course, playing the game he made appear so simple on his way to 15 major championships and a seat in the World Golf Hall of Fame next March. Tiger’s smile as he engaged with his son had to be the highlight of the day after everything he’d been through.
“It was a fantastic day,” Tiger remarked. “It was fantastic to be back out here playing and spending time with my son, and we had a great day.”
The old war horse’s giddy-up had a hiccup. Tiger, who turns 46 on Dec. 30, was able to get around with the help of a golf cart, stooping over on one leg to pick up his tee and retrieve his ball from the hole, as well as that of his pro-am teammates. He stated that this was only his second or third round of golf, and that he lacked the endurance required to consider a comeback to PGA Tour tournaments, and that he was still a long way from returning to competitive golf. Tiger shut it down early to save energy for the next three days, hitting his last tee shot at 13, second shot at 14, and relying on pitches, chips, and putts for the remaining few holes.
Begay stated, “It’s almost like he’s on a pitch count.” “Each day, he only has so many swings in him.” He’s well aware of it.”
Tiger’s performance, on the whole, was positive. When asked about his driver swing speed in a recent interview with Golf Digest, Tiger joked that it was slower than Charlie’s. Tiger hit a few drives in the 300-yard range, which may not have been up to his standards. He’s confident that he’ll be able to make it work.
Woods said, “You saw it out there.” “I can hit around here, drop a ball here, hit a couple wedges, and that sort of thing.” But to go out there with 220 yards and know you have to hit a 3- or 4-iron and miss the ball in the right area, then hit certain shots where one stroke dictates whether you win or lose, that’s a very different attitude than what we’ve had out here this week. “I haven’t arrived yet.”
“Yes and no,” Tiger said when asked if he’s surprised he’s playing this week. If you had asked me if I would still be here after those three months in bed, I would have given you a different response.
“However, there are no vacation days.” Every day, we worked. Even when I wasn’t feeling well, we continued to work on something. So I’ve never taken a day off in my entire life, save for those three months in bed.”
It seemed like old times seeing him sink a 15-foot birdie putt on the first hole. On the fifth hole, he still used flighted wedges that made the ball stop on a dime and chipped to inches from approximately 100 feet. “Welcome back, Tiger,” “we missed you, Tiger,” and “let’s go, Tiger,” fans chanted.
He wasn’t the only one who received a warm greeting upon his return.
“It’s nice to be outside,” LaCava remarked, adding, “I hope this isn’t a once-a-year thing.”
Perhaps no truer words have ever been spoken.